Washington, D.C., September 10, 2019–Websites and email addresses belonging to embattled independent news agency Asia Plus in Tajikistan have been down since August 19, according to the agency and Radio Ozodi, the Tajik-language service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
Dushanbe-based media group Asia Plus reported via a mirror site on September 2 that its main websites and business emails stopped working completely on August 19. Prior to the outage, Asia Plus was already blocked in Tajikistan, according to the regional news website Eurasianet, though still accessible overseas and via virtual private network (VPN). CPJ visits to both websites from Washington, D.C., today produced error messages.
The Asia Plus and Radio Ozodi reports said the domain name records for two websites, news.tj and asiaplus.tj, had been deliberately misconfigured to disrupt access. While this could potentially result from an error or cyberattack, the national domain registry has yet to investigate complaints from Asia Plus and Eastera, the private hosting provider that manages the domains, according to Radio Ozodi. The .tj domain is administered by the Information Technology Center under the president’s administration, according to the registry’s website.
“The apparently targeted disruption of Asia Plus news agency’s website and the failure to restore service is cause for concern given Tajikistan’s poor press freedom record,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The Tajik authorities should investigate the problem and help ensure the website is accessible, so the public can get much needed news and information.”
CPJ did not receive a response to its emailed request for comment from the Information Technology Center. The government communications service denied responsibility for the incident, Radio Ozodi reported. A spokesperson for ICANN, the global body that governs the internet’s domain name system, declined to comment because it does not have authority to adjudicate issues involving national registries.
Asia Plus, which the regional Ferghana news agency has described as one of Tajikistan’s largest independent news agencies, covers political, social, and economic issues. Eurasianet reported in November 2018 that Asia Plus had joined Tajikistan’s growing list of blocked news websites after it published an article on tax exemptions for construction companies linked to the president and his family. The agency continues to publish via a mirror site, Facebook page, and Telegram channel.
Websites and social media are frequently subject to censorship in Tajikistan, regional news reports indicate. News is routinely censored and journalists face persecution for their critical reporting, CPJ reporting shows.